We all know what members of the Secret Service do: they protect the President and First Family from attack. But we don’t often think about the details of what that actually involves.
Here’s a very matter-of-fact narrative from Clint Hill, the agent assigned to protect Jackie Kennedy 47 years ago in Dallas. That day, he was standing on the running board of the car behind the president and his wife when he heard the first shot. Here’s Hill’s description:
I heard an explosive noise from my right rear. As I turned toward the sound, I scanned the presidential limousine and saw the president grab at his throat and lurch to the left.
I jumped off the running board and ran toward his car. I was so focused on getting to the president and Mrs. Kennedy to provide them cover that I didn’t hear the second shot.
I was just feet away when I heard and felt the effects of a third shot. It hit the president in the upper right rear of his head, and blood was everywhere. Once in the back seat, I threw myself on top of the president and first lady so that if another shot came, it would hit me instead.
We have seen the photos, and we know what Hill saw up close and personal: the president’s head was explosively blown apart. But as an agent, Hill was trained to go towards the carnage—to throw himself over his charges so that he would die rather than them, and to do this consciously and willingly. This is a level of service and sacrifice most of us can hardly imagine, much less perform.